If the readers of this column will excuse-it-please, we will attempt to divert their attention momentarily from the Nazi blood-and-thunder hippodrome. Hitler and his stooges are becoming as tiresome a subject to write about as it must be for The Bulletin customers to read about.
Anyway, Hitler’s far away â€” somewhere in a cozy little hideaway in the Bavarian Alps which may or may not become his St. Helenaâ€”and Westbrook Pegler is much nearer.
Pegler, in the event The Bulletin clientele is unaware, is a hard-bitten young newspaperman, who, under the title “Fair Enough,” writes a daily column for the New York World-Telegram.
We’re bringing him into the Day Book because of all columnists plying their trade in this metropolis he has given us the greatest amount of gripe. The most recent attack of that malady we suffered at the hands of “Fair Enough” Pegler is his column in the Friday, July 6, issue in which he reverts to a favorite subjectâ€”the mental and moral gymnastics of the clan lawyer.
Before proceeding further with what may develop into a nasty nip at Peggy, let it be said that his attitude, if he has one, toward Jews does not enter into the matter. We don’t know and don’t care whether he loves Jews, hates them, or can take them or leave them. As a matter of fact, most newspapermen are free of racial bias and we doubt if Pegler is an exception.
Peggy’s column uses as a springboard Clarence Darrow and his recent denunciation of Hitler’s “purging” as murder, for which the Nazi leader ought to be punished by death.
“It must be a great blow to Adolf Hitler to hear that Clarence Darrow has denounced his purging process in Germany as murder,” the columnist writes. “Coming from Mr. Darrow, ‘murder’ is a nasty word. And when he also said he thought Herr Hitler ought to be dead he must have been churned to the depths of his remarkably tolerant soul. After all this time it is something to learn from Mr. Darrow that there is such a thing as murder and that murderers de###rve to die.”
Following this Peggy identifies Darrow as the attorney “who enabled two of the most distinguished assassins of our time in the United States to get away with a mischievous juvenile prank which to many other persons had some of the aspects of willful murder.”
Pegler’s plentiful store of irony is loosed on Darrow’s venerable head because he successfully defended Leopold and Loeb in the sensational Bobby Franks murder case in Chicago. Successfully, that is, to the extent that Darrow’s brilliant defense enabled his clients to escape the death penalty demanded by the state and suffer, instead, life imprisonment.
What Pegler is barking about is that Darrow, who helped to defeat the ends of justice by finding legal loopholes to poke his clients into, is the wrong person to rear up and shout “murderer” and demand the death penalty for any one else. He is surprised â€” academically speaking â€” that the Darrow who found it in his heart to be tolerant about the Franks boy’s confessed murderers should be so intolerant about Herr Hitler.
“To be denounced as a murderer and recommended for death by Mr. Darrow is a fate,” Pegler writes, “which is as bad as death itself. To be placed beyond the generous compassion of the man who heightened the American respect for law and the sanctity of human life by enabling Leopold and Loeb to get away with the most frightful murder which this country has produced in twenty years is to find oneself blacklisted from the human race. Herr Hitler should feel severely rebuked.”
This ironic shaft is meant to imply that Darrow is a hypocrite. Because he played an important (and well-paid) role in saving the necks of the murderers Leopold and Loeb, and now declares that Hitler should be erased for his murders, Darrow is not playing cricket in Pegler’s eyes.
This attitude of Pegler toward Darrow would be unimportant, but it happens that the journalist’s opinion of the legal profession as a whole is considerably less than low. They’re a lot of nasty men who get paid for shooting the law of the land full of loopholes for ratty criminals to escape through. This is an opinion that is held by others than Pegler. That there is some excuse for this opinion cannot be doubted. Lawyers, particularly the criminal specialists, do go in for hair-splitting in their efforts to earn their bread and butter and yachts. But whether these hair-splitting activities makes them deserving of the opprobrium heaped upon them by Pegler who, if he were unfortunate enough to get caught in the coils of the law himself would probably move heaven and earth to get a lawyer who knew his loopholes, is another question.
Pegler’s attitude, if placed in the cold light of reason, shows up rather frayed. He rebukes Darrow for his defense of the Franks’ murderers. It enabled the murderers to get away with murder and thus set an example for Chicago gangsters. Disrespect for law has grown apace since that epochal trial. With this disrespect, Pegler more than strongly implies, Darrow has played a big role.
But the writer says nothing about the judge who was present at the trial, other than that he was dazzled by Darrow into a favorable verdict. Nor does he mention the jury. Neither does he mention the fact of the law itself. With his worldly wisdom, he should know that a law is no better than its loopholes. But judge, jury and law are disregarded by Peggy, who blithely insists that since justice, as he sees it, was not done in that case, then the lawyer for the defendant is the one to pounce upon. Making the law loophole-proof doesn’t suggest itself as a solution to this brilliant young newspaperman. That’s too tedious a matter. The law’s okay, but down with the lawyer, since he’s bent on exposing its weakness (to his own profit)â€”that’s a much more dramatic and popular way of obtaining respect for the law.
The Pegler lack of logic is apparent also in another branch of his treatise. What possible connection there is between Darrow the lawyer, practicing his profession and pleading the cause of humanitarianism in an attempt to save the lives of clients who are confessed murderers, and Darrow the private citizen who raises his voice against mass murder, is not very clear. It is the law of this country that even a murderer is entitled to the best legal assistance obtainable. Because his clients afforded the Darrow fee and retained him, would Pegler have had Darrow lay down on his job and help the prosecution send the accused to the chair? Would that have been playing cricket? And if Darrow did that would he be any more entitled to call Hitler a murderer deserving of death?
Pegler is casting aspersions on the sincerity of Darrow’s humanitarianism. We maintain that Pegler is not qualified to judge.
On one recent occasion Pegler proved conclusively that his knowledge of humanitarianism is altogether too limited to give him the right to hold up to scorn those who profess to possess some of it. The occasion was the brutal lynching of the two confessed kidnapers and killers of a young California merchant. In rabid language Peggy defended the lynchings. He condoned them on the grounds that if the murderers had been held for trial, they might have obtained some clever lawyer who would have loopholed them out of the chair.
A man who in one column condones lynchings certainly has precious little “right” to work himself up into a lather in another column because Clarence Darrow, who once loopholed a couple of murderers into a life sentence instead of death, now urges the death penalty for Hitler.